Agnew Cold War Gallery

Agnew Cold War Gallery

Clay and Dorothy Perkins in the Bethe House during the renovation

Restoring the Bethe House

The B-29 The Great Artiste on Tinian

Agnew on Hiroshima

Harold Agnew at LANL

Agnew at LANL

  • Restoring the Bethe House

    Restoring the Bethe House

    Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan explains how the Hans Bethe came into the Society’s possession.

    Narrator: The Hans Bethe House now belongs to the Los Alamos Historical Society, thanks to the generosity of Clay and Dorothy Perkins of California.

    Heather McClenahan: Clay actually was eleven years old when World War II ended, and he was absolutely fascinated with the Manhattan Project, to the point where he became a physicist. He moved from Texas to southern California to be a rocket scientist, and learned rather quickly that he would make a lot more money as a developer in southern California than a rocket scientist. So Clay became a developer.

    As he made his money, he went back to his first love, which was the Manhattan Project. He has collected memorabilia and devices from the project over the years.

    Clay thought it would be great to have his name on a deed that said “Bathtub Row.” Clay and Dorothy purchased the house. They gave us money for repairs, and then they also gave us money for exhibits in the house, for those Cold War exhibits.

    It turns out that Clay was very good friends with Harold Agnew, the third director of the [Los Alamos National] laboratory, and he said, “I would really like it if you would name your Cold War museum after Harold Agnew.”

    We said, “You’ve got a deal.” 

  • Agnew on Hiroshima

    Agnew on Hiroshima

    Harold Agnew, who would go on to become director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima from the B-29 plane The Great Artiste.

    Narrator: Harold Agnew was a scientific observer aboard the B-29 The Great Artiste during the atomic bombing mission to Hiroshima.

    Agnew: Luis [Alvarez] had this idea that we ought to measure the yield. We went to Oppie and got Oppie’s approval. Then he asked for volunteers to join him, because it was clear we were going to have to go overseas. He already had Larry Johnston.

    It turned out, I was the only other volunteer. It was really rather dumb to do, because I had a wife and a one-year-old kid. Now, why am I volunteering to go overseas? It was just dumb!

    Actually, we did not witness Hiroshima. We were busy with our instruments. The plane was lit up with the flash, because we had a window, about a six-inch window. That’s all we had back where we were. We were able to look out the window, and I took some pictures.

    Came the time to go for the second mission, we said, “Fine, we’ll send Walter [Goodman] and we’ll send the two SEDs [Special Engineer Detachment servicemembers].” The powers that be said, “No, one of you guys has to go, too.”

    Now, we all had uniforms. We weren’t really in the Army, but we had uniforms and insignia. I was a first lieutenant, it said.

    Somebody had to go, so we decided we would draw straws. Poor Larry got the short straw. Larry went to Nagasaki, and we stayed there and wished him well. 

  • Agnew at LANL

    Agnew at LANL

    Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan provides an overview of Harold Agnew’s distinguished career.

    Narrator: Harold Agnew made important contributions to international nuclear policy, the Manhattan Project, and to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan recounts Agnew’s career.

    Charlie McMillan: Harold Agnew is obviously well known to our community. He has personally been part of the history of this laboratory almost since its inception, not only a witness to history, but also someone who has helped to shape that history. I think when I look at our laboratory today, I continue to see Harold’s hand on many of the things in our laboratory.

    Harold came to the laboratory, like many of you did, as a graduate student, and joined the experimental physics division in 1943. He participated in 1945 in the Hiroshima mission. At that point, he had already served on Enrico Fermi’s team at the University of Chicago that had successfully done the first chain reaction.

    In 1964, Harold became the head of the Weapons Nuclear Engineering Division, and in 1970 he became the Laboratory Director. He was the Laboratory Director for nine years. It was under Harold’s leadership that we developed the underground test containment program.

    He completed the Clinton P. Anderson Meson Facility, what we know as LANSCE [Los Alamos Neutron Science Center] today. He acquired the first Cray supercomputer. He trained the first ever class of IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors, and I think since that time, almost all IAEA inspectors have come here for training. When I said that his hand continues to be on the laboratory today, there are examples.


Quick Fact:
Today you can visit the Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery at the Hans Bethe House, owned by the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS). Philanthropists Clay and Dorothy Perkins purchased the home for LAHS and covered the renovation costs. Clay asked that it be named in honor of his friend and former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Harold Agnew.